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Sustaining Hope–An Artist’s Specialty

[1]Did you read WU on Friday? Monica Bhide submitted a lovely essay, aptly titled Powered by Hope [2], in which she offers a link to her Sound Bites project [3] of the same name. Monica says she’s providing this service because she knew she “had to do something,” in response to the messages of fear and despair she was receiving due to the pandemic.

Monica’s post raised my spirits. But I have to admit, as I write this, I’m feeling pretty hopeless. It seems like hopes are tough to hold on to these days. Every time I feel like I have a grip on them, something new pops up and gets the darn wrigglers slithering away again. Which is what happened between reading WU on Friday and writing this post over the weekend.

The disheartening turn of events this past weekend got me thinking about hope—its vital role in our lives and its fragility. As elusive as my hopes feel at the moment, I realized that we writers have a pretty special relationship with hope. In fact, I’ve come to realize that we’re hope experts.

Hope Experts

I hope that if there’s one thing you take with you from WU today, it’s the belief that it’s true—that you are indeed a hope expert. I’m sure you already have some understanding of how vital hope is to the gig. In fact, whether you realize it or not, I’m willing to bet that the very force that first compelled you to put pen to page to tell a story was born of, and buoyed by, hope. After all, hope is a sort of anticipation, an optimistic expectation for a fortuitous result. But at the crux of it, hope is a desire. You anticipated a positive result. But beyond that, you desired to create something. And not just any ole’ something.

When we writers set out to tell a story, we desire to create something that will elicit anticipation in others. In other words, we hope to create a form of hope for our fellow humans. How’s that for requiring expertise?

But wait, the need for expertise only grows. How do we do it? I mean, we can’t just write willy-nilly, call it a story, and hope it will create anticipation. We have to create more than just the desire for others to begin our story. We must provide the desire to continue consuming it to “The End.” In other words, our desire to create hope for others must be so strong that it inspires us to strive to sustain it for them.

Seems like a lot of hope expertise already, doesn’t it? You know there’s more, though, right?

So how do we sustain hope in readers? Well, we have to start by putting our readers into the shoes of our characters. How? By giving our characters hopes of their own, of course. Once we accomplish that, how do we keep readers in those shoes to “The End”? Yep, you guessed it—we’ve got to dash those hopes. I kid you not: to sustain the anticipation of our readers, we have to learn to manipulate the hopes of our characters.

In other words, in order to strive for success as a writer, you have to hope so fervently to create hope in others that you’re willing to work long and hard to master the art of toying with the hopes of your characters. You have to do it well enough to keep your readers hoping for them all the way to each story’s resolution.

And that’s all before considering your career hopes, for which you have to leave readers hoping for more stories.

Now do you believe you’re a hope expert? I hope so.

Naivety Blindfolds, But Hope Evolves

As I contemplated how entwined hope and writing truly are, I thought about how my hopes have evolved as a writer. And how there was always a certain level of naivety to my writerly hopes prior to each evolution.

Through my young adulthood, I only managed to hope to get back to writing… you know—someday. My future seemed vast and the possibilities nearly endless. In my naivety, writing was just another desired facet of the kaleidoscope of life. It was a faint hope, but an enduring one.

When we first left the business world, I hoped writing could be a sideline that would serve as a creative outlet. My naivety made it a secondary pastime that would naturally make life richer. I hoped it would provide effortless reward.

Once I became invested in the story that became my first trilogy, I gained a work ethic, but I only really hoped to get to “The End.” I was a pantser, and had a growing desire to find my way to a satisfying resolution. My naivety kept insisting that storytelling came naturally to real writers. My hope presumed to make me a member of a secretive club.

During the drafting of a second long story arc over three manuscripts, and countless revision passes, I mostly just hoped to get a book deal. By this time, I managed to be canny enough to bury my naivety away. But, deep down, my naïve conviction insisted that traditional publishing amounted to some sort of finish line—that all of my ephemeral cravings would be satisfied by this single accomplishment. That my desire would be sated, my anticipation resolved.

Through it all I presumed that via some singular outcome, my hopes would be fulfilled. See the need for further evolution?

I’ve been at this a long time, and of course my hopes for my writing have ebbed and flowed. I feel like I’m at another inflection point—one in which I’m not sure exactly what I’m hoping for. But I’ve grown enough to recognize that if I’m hoping for something too specific, something too easily ascribed or achieved, I’m being naïve.

I’ve come to recognize that my hopes will continue to evolve, that anticipation is not meant to be resolved. I’ve grown enough to simply hope I can continue to write, that my desire will never be sated.

Hope Requires Action

“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something. If you go out and make good things happen, you fill the world with hope. And in doing so, you will fill yourself with hope.”—Barack Obama

Rereading Monica’s post, I realized something. In response to the messages of hopelessness she was receiving, she says, “I knew I had to do something.” As I write this, the same thing keeps striking me. When we seek to be storytellers, anticipation alone doesn’t deliver the fortuitous result we desire. When we long for connection, to create hope for others, the longing alone won’t provide it. When we seek to be career authors, desire alone won’t sell our books. Whatever it is we desire from writing, we’ve got to want it enough to act, to strive.

I’ve come to see that hope is an active pursuit. Hope feeds on action. Hope thrives in our effort.

At the moment I may not be precisely sure what I’m hoping will happen next for my writing, but I know it will require me to work, to be willing to step outside my comfort-zone. To strive.

It’s true—our hopes can blindfold us. They can appease our naivety. But we can be mindful that they will continue to evolve.

Plain ole’ desire won’t bother to stir us to action. Hope begs us to get outside ourselves and seek.

The Dali Lama says that the only true tragedy is the loss of hope. But sustaining hope is our specialty. We writers have already shown that we’re willing to work—to push and stretch ourselves. We’ve already strived to sustain anticipation in others, shown that our fervent hope extends to our fellow humans. Since we’re willing to act, hope can endlessly fuel our writing journey.

I know that hope can never be truly lost to us. We’re hope experts, after all. It’s why you’re here.

How’s your hope holding up, WU? Do you admit that you’re a hope expert? How are you sustaining yours? Ready to feed your hopes with action? What can you do to keep them thriving today? I hope you’ll share in the comments.

About Vaughn Roycroft [4]

Vaughn Roycroft's (he/him) teacher gave him a copy of The Hobbit in the 6th grade, sparking a lifelong passion for reading and history. After college, life intervened, and Vaughn spent twenty years building a successful business. During those years, he and his wife built a getaway cottage near their favorite shoreline, in a fashion that would make the elves of Rivendell proud. After many milestone achievements, and with the mantra ‘life’s too short,’ they left their hectic lives in the business world, moved to their little cottage, and Vaughn finally returned to writing. Now he spends his days polishing his epic fantasy trilogy.